Do you struggle with perfectionism?
Me too. Even when I was choosing the image for this blog, I found myself taking too long with it and had to stop myself and just decide.
I used to think of perfectionism as a good thing, as something to be proud of.
That was until I learned that perfectionism has a mighty cost.
I used to play in a band called Foamy Ed (check us out on YouTube if you want a laugh!) from 1996 – 2008 and was one of the main songwriters.
My bandmates would often be asleep in studios on couches at 3 am while I meticulously made sure every note, every beat, everything I could was absolutely refined and the best it could be.
Band practices were consumed with “Let’s play it again” and I knew it was really hard on them at times.
While my high standards did help bring us a certain level of success, I know that I was annoying. I’m sure my perfectionism stifled a lot of creativity and caused frustration that was unnecessary and sapped some of the joy of our jams.
Perfectionism is caused my many things, but one of them is low self-worth. It’s an unconscious drive to produce great work because we think that our worth is linked to our work.
My perfectionism stemmed from not feeling smart enough and trying to compensate by putting ridiculously high standards on myself and others.
The problem with perfectionism is that when you are caught up trying to make something perfect, it can:
* Delay your work going out into the world - work that can help people and bring beauty, inspiration and value
* Cause us to devalue what we create if it doesn't meet the standards
(It's a toxic loop)
* Set standards that are impossible to meet
* Create feelings that we are flawed and therefore, what we create is not valuable or worthy.
People with perfectionism tend to believe that they should never make mistakes and that making a mistake means they are a failure or a horrible person for disappointing others.
Thinking like this makes it really scary to make mistakes.
Trying to be perfect is likely to make you feel stressed and maybe even disappointed with yourself much of time because you are not able to meet your standards easily or at all.
It's important to note that perfectionism is different to excellence.
Striving for excellence shows you have a good work ethic and strength of character. Holding high expectations of yourself and high standards can also push you to reach your peak level of performance.
Avoiding perfectionism is not about doing rushed or sloppy work. There's no excuse for that.
Some companies launch a bit too soon. But taken to an extreme, a no-mistakes-allowed mindset can block creativity.
Most people don’t launch soon enough. There is a sweet spot. A time when you need to surrender and launch.
Reid Hoffman – the founder of LinkedIn said this scarily true statement:
“If you’re not ridiculously embarrassed by your first release, you launched too late”
If you want to keep improving, it’s got to be near enough.
It wasn’t until I started to get really busy in my business that I realised that perfectionism was costing me and I had to stop it. It’s also been many, many Coaches who have made the biggest difference in changing my mindset.
I've really appreciated their 'get it out there' energy.
I remember when I moved to London and started working at a new gym. I had no clients and no money and it was in the recession. I desperately needed to make money. I decided that my first step was to print off some marketing brochures.
I asked the Manager at the time where there was a printing shop and he said to me (I'll never forget it!) "F*^% the stationary Kat, get on the floor and talk to people!"
I was initially a bit shocked and thought I knew better, that I needed to have promotional material first, but I look back now and know he was right.
I'll always remember that lesson about how getting clients is about relationship building, not about a beautiful logo, business cards, brochures or a perfect-looking website.
Now, when I find myself trying to get every single PowerPoint slide perfectly aligned, I check in with myself and ask myself if this is the best use of my time. More times than not, it isn't.
Perfectionism still tries to creep in and I battle with it constantly. But I fight it. I go at it and refuse to let it dig its toes in. Most of the time.
It’s a work in progress for sure.
I was even tempted not to check for poor grammar this article, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
(If you spot any typos, pretend they were deliberate and celebrate with me!)
Again, I remind myself not to strive for perfectionism in the journey to avoid perfectionism!
A recent article in ‘Psychology Today’ states ‘…being a perfectionist isn’t about things being perfect; it's about thinking things need to be perfect and vigilantly pursuing it.’
If you’re wondering when things will be finished – they won’t be. Every day you are changing things and making them better.
As one of my favourite teachers, Benjamin J Harvey says “The road to success is always under construction”.
He always says “I’ve never met a single artist who thinks that their painting is completely finished. The painting is already on the wall and they want to add another stroke.”
If we have to constantly re-earn or re-prove our worth - even if it’s to ourselves - we run on a never-ending treadmill of external achievements that will not bring us deep, lasting joy.
It is worthwhile to consider loosening up your standards a bit to ease the stress and anxiety you may feel from trying so hard to be perfect.
Here are some steps to help you overcome perfectionism:
1: Learn to be aware of perfectionism
This is an important first step. Remember, there is nothing wrong with having high standards, but when these standards are too high, they can really get in the way of your work, study, relationships, and enjoyment of life.
Consider these questions to help you figure out whether perfectionism is causing problems in your life:
- Do you have trouble meeting your own standards?
- Have you been told that your standards are too high?
- Do your standards make it difficult for you to meet deadlines, finish a task, trust others, or do things spontaneously?
- Do you say things that set you up for failure, like “If it can’t be done right, what’s the point?”
- Do you struggle with excessive checking of your work, especially when the stakes are low?
For example, rewriting everything to constantly make it better or spending ages checking every detail over and over on an email or document that doesn’t have a high-stakes outcome?
2: Replace critical thoughts with helpful thoughts
One of the most effective ways to overcome perfectionism is to replace self-critical or perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic and helpful statements.
“I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have”
“It doesn’t have to be perfect, just done”
“My worth doesn’t come from my work”
It really helps to practice saying these helpful statements regularly.
Even if you don’t believe them right away, enough repetition will help turn positive realistic thoughts into a habit and crowd out the negative self-talk.
3: Decide which tasks are worthy of spending more time on and which tasks are not
If we are investing our time trying to make everything perfect, there will be a whole heap of things that don’t get done. We simply can’t make everything excellent, all of the time.
It’s important to triage items and invest our time on the ones that matter most.
Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to help you do this:
1. How high are the stakes on this task?
For example, spending time practicing a presentation you’re going to deliver to some potential clients is a good thing to spend time on.
Spending hours making every colour and formatting on your PowerPoints perfect may not be.
2. Am I the best person to be doing this task?
Basically, can anyone else do this task that is taking me ages better than me?
3. What are some clear standards I can set around my daily decisions?
I have just a post-it note on my wall that I look at daily that says this:
“What’s the best use of my time right now?”
“Am I doing a task that only I can do?” (this one is rather convicting – there’s so much we do that’s outside of our genius zone and can be outsourced)
“I only do tasks that are scheduled”.
Deciding ahead of time how you’re going to decide to invest your time saves you a lot of wasted time in the long run.
Choose your modus operandi – your default way that you want to do things in your life and start practicing operating out of it.
Perfectionism is such a trap. 'Done' is always better than sitting in your laptop until it's perfect, not helping anyone.
Whatever we are labouring on will never be perfect, and that's not only ok but perfect.
What have you been putting off until it's 'perfect'?
Is it time to hit launch?
I hope you found this article valuable. I'd love to read your comments below.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? What helps you to overcome it?
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